I was surprised at how thrilling it was when David Johanson, arguably the king of early 1970s New York rock, took to the stage of Manhattan cabaret institution Cafe Carlyle. Of course, he’s doing it under the name of Buster Poindexter, his martini sipping, jacket required alter ego. At this point, after retiring and returning to the persona multiple times, it essentially signifies that Johanson will be singing the Poindexter repertoire, while wearing a pompadour. When he talks about himself in the act, he calls himself David.
And there’s nothing particularly ironic about the act, either – this is light years away from, for example, Bill Murray’s campy Nick the lounge singer. The closest he comes to that kind of schtick are the Vegas jokes he tells between songs, and even these gems of bad taste feel somehow lovingly curated.
Johanson clearly has real affection for the pop standards and early r&b that form the backbone of this act. The fun here is hearing these songs given new life with a combination of excellent musicianship and gutbucket energy worthy of Johanson’s original band, glam punk legends the New York Dolls.
Johanson is at his best when assaying international material – a rattling version of calypso standard “Zombie Jamboree” is one of the high points, as is a ragged boogie take on Italo-pop classic “Volare” (made famous by Dean Martin). Sometimes the act veers even closer to pure rock-and-roll, as with his interpretation of “Piece of My Heart” that owes its arrangement to the hit Janis Joplin version (for the record, that’s a very good thing).
Lyrics are occasionally glossed over in the high-octane rush, but these are songs that are all about the groove, so this isn’t even really a concern. This act is a hard swinging good time, and definitely recommended.
For tickets, click here.
To learn about Jonathan Warman’s directing work, see jonathanwarman.com.